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Blackpool Social Work and Safeguarding ServiceProcedures Manual

Family Group Conferences

Contents

  1. Definition
  2. Legislative Framework
  3. Aims and Principles
  4. Circumstances where a Family Group Conference Service Should be Considered  
  5. Process
  6. Closure
  7. Evaluation
  8. Appendix 1: Summary of Roles and Responsibilities

1. Definition

What is a Family Group Conference (FGC)?

A Family Group Conference is a process in which families can meet together, to find solutions to problems that they and their children are facing, within a professionally supportive framework. The Family Group Conference process involves all family members, friends and other adults who the family feel can contribute to making plans for the children.

2. Legislative Framework

1. Legislation

The legislation that promotes Family Group Conferencing and considers the wishes and feeling of children/young people include:

  • Children Act 1989;
  • Children Act 2004;
  • Adoption Act 2002;
  • Children and Young Person Act 2008;
  • Human Rights Act 1998;
  • Data Protection Act 1998.

2. Disclosure

Access to personal information is governed by the Data Protection Act 1998 and accompanying guidance, which should be complied with.

If personal information needs to be shared at a Family Group Conference, this should usually be disclosed with the consent. Only in exceptional cases, such as where a child is at immediate risk, or to prevent or following commission of a crime will this principle be overridden. Legal advice should be sought if there is concern about disclosure issues.

3. Guardians/Solicitors attendance at Family Group Conferences

Family Group Conferences are not legal processes, they are family processes designed to facilitate a way of giving families the chance to get together to try and make the best plan possible for the child/young person.

If a family member wishes to include a solicitor in a Family Group Conference, the Family Group Conference Coordinator will explain why a solicitor should not be part of the process.

The Family Group Conference Coordinator must ensure that Guardians are informed of the request for service and ensure they are provided with a copy of procedures for a Family Group Conference. If the Guardian disagrees with the process, the Guardian should attempt to resolve any issues with the Social Worker. The Family Group Conference service can only accept changes to the process from the allocated Social Worker.

A Guardian should only attend a Family Group Conference if requested by the family. The Family Group Conference Coordinator would need to clarify with the family what role the Guardian is to play at the meeting i.e. advocate for the child. A Guardian should not participate in private time.

3. Aims and Principles

The aims of Family Group Conferences are:

  • To help support families in the care of their children;
  • To reduce the number of children and young people that need to be Accommodated by the Local Authority by assisting families to look for solutions;
  • To support the return of children from the care of the Local Authority to their families;
  • To help support families with arranging their own contact arrangements.

Family Group Conferences are based on the principle of working in partnership. The decision makers at Family Group Conferences are the family members and not the professionals

  • Families have more knowledge about themselves than professionals, which can lead them to make better decisions;
  • Families are able to make good decisions about their children, provided they are given the opportunity and information to do so;
  • Family difficulties can be resolved by involving friends and extended family;
  • Families have the strongest potential and motivation to care for their own children;
  • Families provide identity and continuity for their children's future;
  • Families can make culturally sensitive plans;
  • Children are generally best looked after by their own families;
  • Children should be involved and appropriately participate in the decision making process.

A Family Group Conference should be considered in situations where there is any risk that a child or young person may enter the care system. Family Group Conferences can be particularly helpful where:

  • The extended family network is large and complicated;
  • Where the family have not previously wanted to work with professionals or to give them contact with extended family;
  • Where there are rifts or tensions within the extended family network that have made working together difficult;

The views of the child or young person are important in Family Group Conferences and they can be offered an advocate to help them give their views.

4. Circumstances where a Family Group Conference Service Should be Considered 

  1. Request from Parents for Immediate Accommodation or Emergency Support;

    This may be where there is a risk of child/ren coming into the care system as a result of family breakdown or severe difficulties;

    Emergency support involves diffusing the immediate and precipitating crisis within the home that lead to the service referral, with support workers engaging the family;
  2. Medium Term/Long Term Care Planning;
    • Where children are being considered as in need of accommodation or are at risk of becoming Accommodated;
    • At a Looked After Review;
    • At Care Proceedings/Panel Meetings (Special Guardianship Order or Child Arrangements Order are being considered);
    • Other situations affecting the care of children to be considered on a case-to-case basis, e.g. contact arrangements (including some private family proceedings where the Local Authority is involved at the request of the Court, e.g. Section 37 Reports);
    • Where the Care Plan indicates that neither parent would be a suitable carer, and alternative carers are being sought.

A request for a Family Group Conference would be considered inappropriate under the following circumstances.

  • Isolated asylum seeking children;
  • Families have refused consent to share information that is relevant for the safeguarding of children;
  • Families have specified a preference for another format of decision making for the children i.e. through the court;
  • Level of violence within the family is such that the risks to the participants in a Family Group Conference could not be managed.

Family circumstances that will require special consideration include:

  • Where a family has a history of intergenerational Sexual Abuse;
  • Where there is an on-going Section 47 child protection enquiry;
  • Where there is high risk of violence at the conference;
  • Where the ability of the main caregiver to make a decision is severely impaired due to a learning disability or their mental health.

5. Process

5.1 Views of the Child/Young Person

Each Family Group Conference will have an independent coordinator and/or a Family Group Conference Support Worker who will meet with both the child/young person and the family before the conference and answer any questions that they may have. They will also discuss with the family who they want to attend, and agree a venue for the Family Group Conference.

At the heart of the idea of a Family Group Conference is the child/young person. It is important that they are listened to and their views and ideas are given value by everyone that attends.

The Family Group Conference Coordinator and/or a Family Group Conference Support Worker will talk to the young person or child about how they would like to contribute to the meeting and whether they would like an advocate to attend to assist them in putting forward their views. The young person may also choose to contribute by other means if they feel unable to attend the conference.

5.2 Referral Discussion

The Family Group Conference Coordinator and/or a Family Group Conference Support Worker will contact the Social Worker/referrer to:

  • Clarify their concerns;
  • Help them prepare their presentation to the family in a form that is clear and accessible;
  • Establish what information has been shared to date;
  • To ensure any child protection concerns/welfare issues are clearly shared with the family so that subsequent plans do not compromise the child's safety/welfare.

5.3 Planning Meeting

A Planning Meeting will take place between the Family Group Conference Coordinator, the Family Group Conference Support Worker and the family. The purpose of the meeting is to:

  • Obtain child/young person and family information;
  • Confirm the questions for the family to address at the Family Group Conference;
  • Confirm rationale for the Family Group Conference;
  • Confirm the resources available to the family, child/young person;
  • Explain the Family Group Conference Model and process;
  • Explain what is non-negotiable.

5.4 Timescales

1. Request from Parents for immediate accommodation or emergency support:

In the event of a parent requesting immediate accommodation, the Social Worker and Family Group Conference Support Worker should visit that day.

The Family Group Conference Support Worker should offer immediate direct work with the family to avoid accommodation.

The Social Worker must complete a Single Assessment and the Family Group Conference Support Worker must offer the family a leaflet that explains Family Group Conferencing.

The involvement of the service could offer a short-term intervention, until the crisis is diffused. It may be the decision of the Social Worker and the Family Group Conference Support Worker to take this to medium term working which will include a further Family Group Conference.

An urgent Family Group Conference must be offered, so that the family feel supported during the crisis period. If a Family Group Conference is deemed inappropriate then the Practice Manager for the Social Work Team must convene a planning meeting (with parents present) within 3 working days to try and avoid accommodation.

2. Medium Term/Long term Care Planning:

A referral discussion should be held within 2 working days of the Family Group Conference service receiving the request form.

Family Group Conference Support Worker will work with the family from allocation, leading up to the Family Group Conference. The Family Group Conference must be held within 8 weeks whilst the Support Worker continues their direct work.

If required, the Family Group Conference Support Worker will continue to work with the family leading up to up to the Family Group Conference Review, whereupon they will cease their involvement.

A Family Group Conference Review will take place in four - six weeks dependant upon the family's needs following the initial conference. A further review should be considered if the Family Group Conference Coordinator is of the view it is necessary.

5.5 Stages

The Family Group Conference will be made up of four parts:

Stage 1 - The Request for a Family Group Conference

A request for a Family Group Conference, that meets Blackpool Council's criteria for a service will be made to the Family Group Conference Coordinator by the referrer through means of referral/discussion.

The person with Parental Responsibility (PR) agrees to the request for a Family Group Conference and to the sharing of information and signs the consent form.

An initial planning meeting will be held between the Family Group Conference Coordinator, the Family Group Conference Support Worker and the family.

Stage 2 - Preparation for the Family Group Conference

The Family Group Conference Coordinator in conjunction with the child/young person, those with PR and immediate carers, will identify the family's network, which can include close friends.

The Family Group Conference Coordinator will discuss with the child whether they would like an advocate/supporter. The advocate/ supporter will then meet with the child/young person in preparation for the Family Group Conference.

The Family Group Conference Support Worker will meet with the family and family network to discuss any anxieties or concerns they may have including how the meeting will be conducted. They would also encourage their attendance to the Family Group Conference.

The Family Group Conference Coordinator will send out invitations and agrees a time, date and venue. They will make the necessary arrangements in order for the meeting to go ahead.

There may be occasions when it is appropriate to exclude people from attending a Family Group Conference. The decision to exclude a person from attending a Family Group Conference would be based on:

  • The child's best interest; or
  • It would be considered contrary to the purposes of the Family Group Meeting.

Reasons to exclude some one from attending may include:

  • A person who poses a risk to children;
  • A person who has threatened physical harm or emotional harm to someone who is attending the Family Group Conference;
  • Someone who has a history of domestic violence and the victims of the violence have indicated that they may be too intimidated and afraid to express their ideas if the perpetrator is present;
  • A person who is suffering a mental illness to such a degree that the Family Group Conference would be unable to function;
  • The child/young person has been a victim of abuse or Neglect and the perpetrator's presence is likely to pose an emotional risk to the child/young people's wellbeing and ability to participate in the Family Group Conference.
Stage 3 - The Family Group Conference

A. Preparation

This is where staff from agencies give the family the information they have about services, resource, support that may be available to the child/young person and what is not negotiable. The Family Group Conference Coordinator will chair this part of the meeting. They will make sure all present understand the purpose of the conference and the process and how the meeting will be conducted (for a summary of roles and responsibilities see Appendix 1: Summary of Roles and Responsibilities.

The child/young person, family and family network may also provide information and ask for clarification.

B. Private Family Time

Staff and the Family Group Conference Coordinator will not be present during this part of the conference. The family members will have time to talk amongst themselves and come up with a plan that addresses the concerns raised, identifying resources/support to make it work.

C. Agreeing The Plan

The Family Group Conference Coordinator and the staff will rejoin the family to hear the plan. Any service, resources or support to make the plan work are discussed. The plan should be agreed by the agencies unless it places the child or young person at risk of Significant Harm.

It is important that any child/young person present has a clear understanding of what is decided and that their views are understood.

Arrangements for monitoring the plan and a review date will be agreed.

4. Stage 4 - Reviewing The Plan

A review of the Family Group Conference plan is important and provides a formal opportunity for the family to review progress together with the Social Worker/referrer. The Family Group Conference Coordinator will chair reviews. Reviews should be arranged to take place within four to six weeks dependant up on the family's needs following the Family Group Conference. This will remain the same for Family Group Conferences that have taken place within a much shorter timescale due to immediate concerns or request for accommodation.

A closure summary will need to be completed at the review by the Family Group Conference Coordinator.

The stages of a review are similar to that of a Family Group Conference:

  1. Information sharing;
  2. Private family time, if the family want family time, otherwise it would a discussion around the original plan;
  3. Agreeing the revised family plan;
  4. Planning further informal reviews - family will review and up date the plan themselves.

Family Group Conference reviews will need to focus on:

  • Have all the key actions in the family plan been completed? If not and are still relevant, what is needed to complete the actions?
  • Are there any outstanding issues for the child/young person?
  • Are there any new issues that have emerged that need to be considered?
  • Any new actions required meeting the needs of the child/young person. What are the actions and who will complete them?

6. Closure

The Family Group Conference service will cease their involvement with families when the following has take place:

  • The Family Group Conference Review has been completed and tasks agreed acted upon;
  • The Family Group Conference has been completed and no review is to take place;
  • The request for a Family Group Conference was assessed as inappropriate;
  • The family withdrew from the Family Group Conference process;
  • Consent was not given;
  • Inappropriate to proceed due to safety reasons.

The Family Group Conference Coordinator will complete the following tasks prior to closing a case:

  • If appropriate meet with the family and child/young person and explain the reasons for ceasing their involvement;
  • Complete a Family Group Conference closure summary at the review meeting;
  • Send written notification of the closure to the family members, child/young person, Social Worker/referrer and if different the current Social Worker and other professionals in attendance at the review.

7. Evaluation

On completion of a Family Group Conference, the Family Group Conference Coordinator will send to each family member, child/young person and the Social Worker an evaluation form for completion. A stamped addressed envelope will be included with the evaluation.

If the parent or child/young person has difficulty in completing the evaluation form for what ever reason, the Family Group Conference Coordinator should offer to assist them in completing the evaluation form.

Appendix 1: Summary of Roles and Responsibilities

The Role of the Family:

  • Attend Family Group Conference;
  • Develop a workable plan;
  • Write their plan;
  • Carry out and monitor the plan;
  • Review the plan.

The Role of the Family Group Conference Coordinator

  • Explore the wider Family Network;
  • Meet with the child/young person to plan their participation;
  • Ensure that the child/young person is enabled to participate in the conference at a level they are comfortable with;
  • Inform the Guardian of a Family Group Conference;
  • Convene the meeting;
  • Encourage and support attendance at the meeting;
  • Chair the information giving stage;
  • Enable the family to feedback the plan;
  • Help clarify the plan with the family, if required;
  • Ensure review arrangements are made;
  • Distribute the plan to all in attendance at the Family Group Conference.

 The Role of the Social Worker

  • Request service from Family Group Conferencing. A Family Group Conference should be considered as early as possible once concerns are identified. The referral should ideally be no later than the issue of the letter before proceedings;
  • To have a referral discussion with the Family Group Conference Coordinator;
  • Attend the Family Group Conference;
  • Provide clear information about concerns;
  • Explain what is non-negotiable;
  • Provide information about resources;
  • Consider the plan developed by the family and monitor/review arrangements;
  • Support the family to carry out the plan;
  • Attend a review.

The Role of Other Professionals

  • Attend the Family Group Conference;
  • Provide information about their services;
  • Implement their part of the plan;
  • Be part of the monitoring arrangements.

The Role of the Relevant Manager

  • Agree and support the referral;
  • Assist the referrer to make a clear agenda from the agency;
  • Ensure the referrer is clear about resources;
  • Agree/Validate the plan within the agreed timescale;
  • Ensure implementation and monitoring is appropriate;
  • Liaise with other relevant managers if necessary to address resource issues;
  • Ensure lines of accountability.

The Role of the Family Group Conference Support Worker

  • To work along side the Social Worker undertaking preparatory work with the family and child/young person in preparation for the Family Group Conference, work may include, genograms, direct work; encouraging engagement with Family Group Conference process and to act as an advocate/supporter;
  • Attend the Family Group Conference as one of the information givers;
  • To support the family following the Family Group Conference, with a time limited piece of work;
  • Invited to attend the Family Group Conference Review;
  • Family Group Conference Family Support Workers will work with the family for four weeks prior to the Family Group Conference and if required two weeks following the Family Group Conference up to the Family Group Conference Review.